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Custody Rights of Unwed Mothers

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If you’re an unmarried mother, it’s only normal for you to wonder about your child’s father’s custody rights to his child. Does he have any custody rights? Can he insist on seeing his child or the child spending the night at his house? Can he make important decisions on his child’s behalf? Can you ask him for money to help support his child?

In a nutshell: If you’re an unmarried mother and paternity was never established, you have sole legal and physical custody of your child. “Legal custody” refers to having the power to make important decisions about your child’s health, education, religious upbringing, medical care, where your child lives, and anything else important related to your child. “Physical custody” refers to your child physically being in your care and control.

This article applies to you assuming:

  • You never married the child’s father
  • You were not married to anyone when your child was born
  • There is no court order granting anyone custody or visitation of your child

If any of the above facts are not true, the information in this article may not apply to you. For this information to be applicable, all of the above must apply to you.

A Message for Unmarried Mothers

If after reading the above you realize that you have sole legal and physical custody of your child, you actually have custody without having to go to court.

This means you have the right to decide who sees your child and for how long, you have the right to restrict visitation, the right to enroll your son or daughter in daycare or school, the right to get your child medical treatment, the right to apply for public benefits for your child, and you have the right to do anything else that any parent with legal custody could do.

However, just because you have custody, it doesn’t mean the courts can’t decide on custody at a future date because they can. If the child’s father asks for a paternity test and it’s confirmed that your child is his, it’s within his right to seek custody and visitation, and the court can order him to pay child support. Without confirmed paternity, the court cannot issue a child support order.

If the child’s father asks for custody after paternity is confirmed, the court will carefully consider the facts of the case. Under the law, the court has to give each parent an equal opportunity to be considered in a child custody case. Essentially, the court will issue a decision based on the best interests of the child.

If you need legal assistance with a paternity or child custody case, contact Claery & Hammond, LLP to schedule a free case evaluation!


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